Slavery Reparations. What Does That Even Mean?
Okay, count me on board morally. Slavery was one of America’s most egregious shames
and more Americans were killed in our Civil War than all other wars combined. But I've got an ethical problem with handing out cash.
Emancipation didn’t actually solve
anything for black Americans. Up to and including today, we
simply played out the white/black American conundrum by other means, such as
voting rights violations, segregation, economic isolation, backwater education
And now we think we can make things right with money?
Well, that’s my stop. Here's where I get off the bus and, until very recently,
it was from the front of the bus.
Last week’s congressional hearing
brought out calls for a long unmet duty to be met, rebutted by
what was done 200 years ago is of no consequence to white Americans today.
No consequence, huh? Racism in America today is the
Those facing elections—and
they’re all facing elections— tellingly kicked the can down the road by
promising to hold a hearing on the problem. What a farce. What a
desperate move to hope the news cycle makes
reparations yesterday’s news. Holding a hearing is the American way in times of crisis, when you want to sift something through the dominant white perspective.
But these are not times of crisis.
Times of crisis were the period
between 1882 and 1968 in the United States, during which 3,446 African
Americans were lynched—hanged from trees while whites cheered and refreshments were
Times of crisis included the famous
‘forty acres and a mule,’ enacted by Union General William T. Sherman’s
Special Field Order No. 15, issued on Jan. 16, 1865. It was available to four million
newly freed American slaves, a promise that lasted exactly nine months. Andrew
Johnson, Lincoln’s successor and a sympathizer with the South, overturned
the Order in the fall of 1865.
Times of crisis began with the 1868
14th amendment to the constitution, which granted full U.S. citizenship to
African-Americans. The 15th amendment, ratified in 1870, extended the right to
vote to black males.
Beginning in 1876, the Supreme
Court presided over a three-decades long dismantling of what seemed to be a
constitutional guarantee of the right to vote for African-Americans. In
United States v. Reese, the court determined that the 15th Amendment, which
states that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged…on account of
race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” did not mean what it
seemed to mean.
Not meaning what it seemed to
mean continues today across southern states, where gerrymandering and false
voter-fraud claims pertain strictly to black voters.
Today, times of crisis include
blacks shot by police for broken taillights, prisons filled with blacks serving
life sentences for minor crimes, unconscionable poverty rates and social
How in the name of god do you solve that with financial
reparations? The fact is, you don’t. But that doesn’t mean there are no
solutions. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that, but he was assassinated,
because his taillight was too bright.
Let’s begin by admitting that civil
rights, as they apply to blacks, are a monumental failure. We are as racially
fucked-up a society as we have ever been. That would be a starting point.
Then let’s see what might be done on a practical basis. It
will be expensive, but so are any meaningful reparations and, by the end, we
may actually have achieved something worthwhile.
Let’s look at black candidate Lori Lightfoot’s recent
election as Mayor of Chicago. If we lean back, half-close our eyes and dream a
bit, what might she achieve? Martin Luther King had a dream and so do I.
Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that and she’s gaining traction. I have
a plan as well, a different plan from hers, but it addresses this issue.
Are you there, Lori Lightfoot?
Chicago is one of America’s least
integrated cities. Blacks live in all the shitty areas and whites elsewhere. I
spent all or part of six decades living in the Chicago area, so I’ve seen
rather more than most.
In black precincts (Chicago runs on a precinct basis), white
banks control all the money. White landlords own what few residences are not
public housing, the grocery chains and auto dealerships are all white owned and
city police drive through (when they are required) with their windows rolled
up, turning a blind-eye to drug dealers.
It’s understandable. Machine politics has always run the
city. Let’s change that,
Lori. You listening?
black-owned banks in one (or a number of) black precincts. State banks or, if
not, federal banks. Assets owned and voting-rights held only by precinct account
holders. Credit card rates at 3% over prime rate. Loans made only to businesses
and individuals within the precinct. Make payday loan joints against the law.
black (resident only) ownership of grocery chains, car dealerships, fast-food
franchises and small businesses—repair shops, plumbers, small contractors, etc.
the public housing to residents for condominiums and give them management training.
Provide city-financed upgrade money and allow residents (as owners) to kick out
drug dealers and those who fail to care for their apartments, returning that asset
to the condo authority.
precinct police funded by the city (as it already is), but require a shorter
commute, living within the precinct from the top down.
precinct primary schools and establish a local school board, free of the too-political
Chicago Board of Education. Make school principals responsible for curriculum,
teacher hires and school budgets.
soon as possible, build a two-year local college to prepare students for
further university education.
collaboration with local businesses, prepare young people to become useful
employees, earning wages that compare to white communities.
trust within the community. Above all, build trust.
begin with, there’s a tremendous amount of money flowing into these damaged
precincts from welfare programs. Another big hunk from outsider owned businesses.
Boost it as necessary in the short run, but keep it in the precinct. In
the long run, the goal is to build a healthy, vibrant community that moves away
from welfare, sustaining itself and becoming economically powerful.
Chicago isn’t going to throw these communities anything more than the bare minimum to keep
residents from rioting and burning the joint down. But they’ll be delighted to
get out from under the responsibility.
Just how delighted remains to be
it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than reparations for the descendants of slavery
and the model Chicago builds can light a thousand lamps across black America.
The most meaningful reparation is to bring black
America into mainstream America, where it belongs. That’s unlikely to
happen with some gigantic, unenlightened federal program, no matter how well-meaning.
But it’s both possible and doable
on a local basis in a major city. Wasn’t it former Speaker of the United States
House of Representatives Tip O'Neill who coined the phrase, "all
politics is local?"
That was 1982, but not all that much has
changed since then.
sown the seeds to grow meaningful reparations for slavery, perhaps we can move
on to compensate the genocide America committed against the most deserving Americans of
all—our native American Indians.
not what you say, it’s what you do.